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August 17, 2007

Friday forum: what sentence should Vick get if he pleads guilty?

This story from the Atlanta Journal-Constitution has the latest news out of Atlanta on the Vick case.  Here are the basics:

The two remaining co-defendants in Vick's federal dogfighting case are expected to plead guilty in court here Friday morning as part of plea agreements with prosecutors, putting more pressure on Vick to do the same....

Meanwhile, federal prosecutors have warned Vick that he must agree to a plea deal Friday or face more serious charges as part of a superseding indictment that could be announced before the end of this month, according to two people with knowledge of the negotiations....

The ex-Virginia Tech football star was close to accepting the plea deal Wednesday, the two people said. But Vick -- who has a $130 million contract with the Falcons -- had not made a final decision because he wants to hear from the NFL what a guilty plea would do to his football career, the two people said.

Various news stories, including this one from the New York Times, are saying that the plea deal "would most likely come with a recommendation from prosecutors that Vick ... be sentenced to one to two years in prison."

Not surprisingly, commentators have in mind other types of sentences for Vick.  Consider this excerpt from this ESPN column:

Vick and his accomplices deserve more than merely prison; they really should spend time working at the humane society....  If I'm the federal judge in charge of sentencing, I make Vick and the others report to the AHS Monday through Sunday at 8 a.m. sharp.  There are about 100 cages that need to be cleaned twice each day.  Sadly, there are few vacancies at the Humane Society.

Vick could walk dogs.  He could help groom them. He could cut the grass and help maintain the grounds. He could stuff envelopes in the administrative offices.  He could work with the on-site dog behavior expert.  He could offer to work in the AHS wellness clinic, which provides free animal-health services for pets whose owners can't normally afford such care. He could attend the monthly support-group meeting, where animal owners who have lost their pets help each other through the hurt.  "It's a cliché term, but it is like losing a family member," says [Carl] Leveridge, [president of the Atlanta Humane Society]....

Most of all, Vick could write a check. Something in the two commas, six-zero variety.  It wouldn't bring back the dogs that were allegedly tortured and killed at Bad Newz, but it would save others.  The AHS has an annual operating budget of about $4.5 million.  It cares for about 400 animals, including about 200 dogs. A Michael Vick Endowment Fund of, say, $5 million, would help bankroll the AHS for the next 20 years.  Now that's a legacy.

August 17, 2007 at 08:45 AM | Permalink


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Does anyone think that he is capable of rehabilitation? I don't.

Posted by: S.cotus | Aug 17, 2007 10:48:16 AM

My feeling for cases like this is that some jail time is needed to let Vick know that his conduct is not OK. But a year is really not necessary. Assuming he is a first offender, let him go to jail for a month. That will send a strong message that he will not easily forget.

I don't see any purpose to locking him up for a year. I don't think this would particularly have a greater deterrent effect than doing so for a month. I think that a month sentence and a year sentence would be about equally likely to teach Vick his lesson. (Though, it would be interesting to see research on this question. If solid research is available, that would carry much more weight than my intuition.)

Lastly, I agree with the idea that some alternative sentence should be imposed. This should be in addition to the jail time. The idea of caring for dogs is interesting, though care would need to be taken to ensure that Vick really is nice to the dogs this time around.

Posted by: William Jockusch | Aug 17, 2007 12:26:31 PM

Just another thought -- given the lengthy and substantial nature of the charged conduct, I believe that a large amount of community service should be required, in addition to a month in prison. Let him do 1500 hours of service caring for dogs. Seriously.

Posted by: William Jockusch | Aug 17, 2007 1:18:21 PM

I don't want this guy anywhere near any animal. There is nothing in his personality that shows that he could ever help them in any way at all.

There is no reason that he should be given community service. This wasn't just one instance of poor judgment. This was a pattern of conduct, which operated as a business. If there was anyone that the taxpayers need to keep isolated from society, it is this guy. Supervised release would be a waste for him, since he would just go back to his old ways. Lock him up forever (or 3 years, which I think is the max he could get.)

Posted by: S.cotus | Aug 17, 2007 1:30:37 PM

Like you, I am offended by Vick's conduct. He needs a strong message that it is not OK. I don't know if he is a first offender or not. But if he is, I believe that he should be given a stern message that his conduct is not OK, and a chance to reform himself. I believe a month in prison would accomplish the former, and the service would accomplish the latter.

I have to imagine that this service would not be unsupervised. If he were working for one of the many organizations in this country that cares for animals, he would be around many people who care about animals, and would not hesitate to report him if he were cruel to them. In this case, it would be clear that he had failed to learn his lesson, and additional incarceration (revocation of supervised release) would be entirely appropriate.

Posted by: William Jockusch | Aug 17, 2007 5:35:02 PM

S.cotus, this "nothing in his personality," is this all the stuff the media didn't report are are you imagining this nothing?

There is a very good chance that the consequences so far are enough to deter him from any future dog fighting involvement. A month in prison, or even a year, might not add that much more.

It's funny how people pick a number out of the hat and say, "Yes! This is it. The magic bullet for deterrence and rehabilitation!"

The truth is, for some people, prison can do far more damage than good.

Posted by: George | Aug 17, 2007 6:10:17 PM

A comment about sentencing first offenders in general: With the exception of those who are guilty of violence against humans, I think the guidelines take the wrong approach. The guidelines take the approach that depending on the seriousness of the crime, many first offenders receive a sentence of straight probation, while others can get 20 years. I think this is wrong. I think that almost all first offenders should get some prison time. A person who is convicted of a crime in Federal court typically needs a wake-up call. And even if they accept responsibility and so on, I think prison time is needed, so that the person will realize that it is not good enough to own up afterwards; they have to not commit crimes in the first place. And even a short time in prison should be enough to remind them that they don't want to go back.

However, in many of these cases, I don't think a lengthy prison sentence serves any constructive purpose. Plenty of first offenders, even those who have comitted serious crimes, are able to turn themselves around after prison and go on to do great things. Sometimes they even do things that only a former criminal can do. Examples include Michael Miliken, Duane Chapman, Frank Abagnale, Jr., Kevin Mitnick, and Sam Antar. All of these people engaged in extended courses of criminal conduct. All of them served prison time. All of them deserved it. And all them do great things today, which would be impossible if we had decided to throw away the key.

Posted by: William Jockusch | Aug 17, 2007 6:32:07 PM

William, do you mean to say a sort of Scared Straight?

We conclude that programmes like 'Scared Straight' are likely to have a harmful effect and increase delinquency relative to doing nothing at all to the same youths. Given these results, agencies that permit such programmes must rigorously evaluate them not only to ensure that they are doing what they purport to do (prevent crime) - but at the very least they do not cause more harm than good.

Posted by: George | Aug 17, 2007 6:56:31 PM

I agree with you that such decisions should be based on hard research when it is available. However, it is far from clear that research into scared straight is relevant here, as there are many differences between the two situations:

1) Adults vs. Juveniles
2) At risk individuals vs. actual criminals
3) Attempting to scare people for something they haven't done yet vs. showing people that actual conduct has consequences.

Point number 3 would appear to loom particularly large.

Posted by: William Jockusch | Aug 17, 2007 7:54:07 PM

Point taken, though I think there are more similarities than differences.

1) Serious vs. minor (in terms of sentence)
2) At risk individuals vs. actual (hardened) criminals
3) Attempting to scare people for something they haven't done yet (the whole concept of deterrence) vs. future acts not done yet but assumed.

What's more, there is the risk of someone coming out of prison after a short time and thinking, That wasn't so bad. And most short sentences would do that once served. There is a natural inclination to congratulate oneself on being able to survive hardship, something that is true for everyone.

I'm reminded of a little segment on "MSNBC Investigates" about Pelican Bay Prison. There was a lot of racial tension after a riot or yard stabbing or something, forget which, and the reporter asked an inmate if there would be more violence if the races were reintegrated. He thought a second and said, "Probably."

He also said, "This isn't like the first stint where it's fun and games. This is serious bleep."

So I think even a short prison term for someone who can be rehabilitated can do more damage than good and probably for similar reasons.

Most important, I doubt the Scared Straight kids thought anyone really cared about them. No, they only thought they were be used to prove a point. That can be interpreted more of a challenge than real concern.

Note to federalist, the solution isn't 25-to-life for everyone.

Posted by: George | Aug 17, 2007 9:45:33 PM

George, I don't believe I have ever advocated 25 to life for everyone, and I happen to think that overly harsh sentences for lots of crimes are a serious abuse of power, and I have said so in here. It's the violent/repeat criminals that I want to see locked up, and I want to see the death penalty for most murders. Vick, while his crimes are awful, probably needs to spend a year or two in the pokey, with serious conditions on parole/supervised release.

Perhaps Vick can become a force for good in our society. One seriously hopes so.

Posted by: federalist | Aug 17, 2007 10:35:52 PM

Please. Remember the dangerous dog panics and the public wanting to wipe them from the face of the earth?

What about the Dangerous Dog Registry?

I love dogs. Have two that are like my kids and I would defend them like they were my kids, but I think conservatives have a vested interested in seeing Vick go down.

It's more panic for the fear mongering screams from the left and the right.

How many years do you want this K-9 officer to get?

That's what I thought.

Posted by: George | Aug 18, 2007 1:48:25 AM

George, you obviously cannot tell the difference between a guy accidentally leaving his dog in the car and a six-year stint of dog-fighting, which makes you, for all of your posturing here, a moral cretin.

Posted by: federalist | Aug 18, 2007 2:06:38 AM

Like I said, "That's what I thought."

Tell it to his dog. Wait, you can't. His dog is DEAD, baked to death.

What happened to your usual punishment rants?

Oh, right, the K-9 officer gets the Libby treatment.

Bunch of hypocrites all.

Posted by: George | Aug 18, 2007 2:13:04 AM

It's called mens rea, you twit, perhaps you've heard of it? We don't punish accidents like we punish deliberate choices.

We're not hypocrites--you're just an idiot.

Posted by: federalist | Aug 18, 2007 2:18:45 AM

You don't punish cops or Libbys or Foleys or....

The fact is, you didn't say anything at all about any punishment at all for your pal the K-9 officer.

And look up these words:


Then get back to me on that mens rea thing you were talking about.

I caught you with your hand in the hypocrite jar.

Posted by: George | Aug 18, 2007 2:31:34 AM

Yeah, George, you got me, I am a hypocrite because I want Vick to go to jail for a couple of years for deliberately killing numerous dogs and forcing dogs to fight, but I think that a person who (presumably by accident) leaves a dog in the car, probably doesn't deserve punishment.

As for Foley, I don't know that what he did was a crime where he did it. I certainly don't approve of that twisted puppy.

As for Libby, that ground is pretty well plowed.

And you're still an idiot.

Posted by: federalist | Aug 18, 2007 3:03:17 AM

There's nothing that Vick will gain from a stint in prison. If anything, it will cause more harm than good. It's not just what he did that should be considered. What about all the 1000's of people who are able to find some enjoyment from watching him on the football field. They are subjected to the same punishment that Vick is subjected too. I don't condone dogfighting or any other criminal activity. But this thing with Vick has turned into a lynch-mob and he'll pay more for that than anything else. If I were in his shoes, I'd take it to trial and seek probation from a jury over pleading out. He has a good chance of getting someone on the jury who enjoys sports and is willing to overlook this indiscretion.

Posted by: Anthony | Aug 18, 2007 8:23:32 AM

Now, now, children enough with the name calling. Can't we all just get along?

Posted by: | Aug 18, 2007 2:06:16 PM

Civil Litigator. If I could sentence Vick, I would confiscate all his money and property and then give him 10 years to life. Then maybe G-d would take pity his soul and not sentence Vick to Hell for all eternity. Fortunately, for Vick I have no say in his sentence. Unfortunately, for Vick G-d will have the final word.

Vick was blessed beyond a man's wildest dreams with fantastic looks, unbelieveable talent, right country right time etc.... the adoration of millions many of whom were young and impressionable. If the facts are true, how did Vick repay the Universe for these gifts? Viciously hideous cruelty to innocent dogs and associated criminal activities. His treatment of the doggies was so abhorrent, that maybe his electrocutions and drownings improved the dogs' condition.

Vick sqaundered more than his gifts. He trashed the opportunity to be the role model to help hundreds of thousands, maybe a few million, young boys to pattern themselves after him. Instead he holds up the life of a Gangstra. Don't say he had no responsibility! Life comes with responsibilities whether one likes it or not. It is not strange that Vick supporters deny his duties to the younger generation. They share the same base, selfish character.

I say take away all his wealth, replace his fame with infamy, and lock him up until his good looks and talent are but a dim memory from his youth. Maybe that will deter any Vicks-in-the-Making and some good might eventually come from Vick's life.

Posted by: Rick | Aug 18, 2007 8:30:31 PM

Rick, what would you sentence him to if he attempted murder and nearly killed someone?

Posted by: George | Aug 18, 2007 11:05:09 PM

It's not just what he did that should be considered. What about all the 1000's of people who are able to find some enjoyment from watching him on the football field. They are subjected to the same punishment that Vick is subjected too.

This is just offensive.

Posted by: Stan | Aug 19, 2007 12:47:54 AM

Stan, I am curious as to why the idea that you find offensive is not valid. It is true that the type of people that watch sports will somehow have their standard of living lowered by not having this criminal on the field. (Since everyone has just about convicted him, and people think trials are silly, then I will go about calling him a criminal, too.)

Posted by: S.cotus | Aug 19, 2007 7:54:17 AM

How about he gets the alternative sentence of being eaten alive by dogs? I'd watch that on Fox.

Posted by: tekel | Aug 20, 2007 11:51:15 AM

Criminal defense and civil rights lawyer here. 33 years and semi retired and dog lover.

Treat Vick no worse or better than anyone else who is convicted of the crime and has the enhancers regarding electrocuting dogs and betting on dogs etc. If he gets a so called 'light sentence' then the media will tout that football celebrities are different. If he gets a harsh sentence then the race card will be thrown down. Treat him no worse than his buddies.
This is a good example for the argument that juries owght to sentence instead of judges.

I defended a male accused of dog fighting his own pit bull. My guy was innocent but he was present at a suburban subdivision house when a dog fight erupted. One male jumped another male while Suzie was in heat. My guy's dog was in his car. I subpoenaed the dogs. The cops and animal control had all the dogs killed. Not a mark on any of them according to the dogs' custodians at the shelter. I was thinking about suing them for killing my client's dog. Criminal case dismissed. Six dogs dead. Thousdands spent on defense.

Will someone get ahold of the PSI in the Vick case and publish it on this website?

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